JON KANEKO-JAMES speaks to paranormal investigator John Fraser about his report into Essex’s terrifying St Osyth Witches Cage
JKJ: For Spooky Isles readers who might not have heard of The Cage, would you mind telling us a little background: where is it, and in what period was it used as a prison?
JF: The Cage (or number Fourteen Colchester Rd to give it its street name) is in St Osyth, a historic village in Essex. It was not a prison as such but a local holding cell which was used to hold prisoners until they could be presented to the magistrates , or in the such cases as drunks let out after they had sobered up . Such places were common before the days of fast transportation.
The Cage was used in that capacity between the 16th century and 1908. It was most famously used in 1582 for the incarceration of the accused witch Ursula Kemp and her associates prior to her trial at Chelmsford and her subsequent hanging. Since the Cage was closed as a holding cell it was simply a village curiosity until it became converted as an extension to a smaller house at Fourteen Colchester Rd circa the late 1970s.
It has become one of Britain’s most famous hauntings recently when single mother Vanesa Mitchell left the premises after several years of phenomena. These phenomena included apparitions, poltergeist style activity such as sudden movement of coke cans and sugar sachets of all things- being thown from one side of the kitchen and hitting Vanessa’s cousin on the head when she was in the house alone. It even included one incident of blood apparently spontaneously appearing on the floor. Ms Mitchell initially had friends in the house who experienced much of the phenomena as well but when her friends moved out, found she could not stay there with a young child. Her decision to leave was confirmed by an incident when she saw an apparition of a man standing over her child’s cot .Since that time the house has been hired out to paranormal investigation groups who have also experienced strange phenomena of various types.
My 7000 word report attempts through the detailed testimony of around 25 witness’s to quantify and make sense of what has been happening there. A number of well repeated and common phenomena have emerged in addition to a whole host of fascinating one off events. The repeatable phenomena include:
Footsteps on the staircase.
The latched bedroom doors suddenly jolting open without explanation.
A number of cases of possible poltergeist scratches – people being scratched or poked without explanation leaving unexplained marks on their skin. There have been five such incidents reported to date including three of which we have pictorial evidence.
A number of cases of uncontrollable fear or rage in some instances not unlike what is can be described as ‘possession’. Whilst these are clearly subjective in themselves they do bear a distinct similarity to each other and seem to go far beyond the normal nervousness of staying in a haunted house. One experienced investigator reported for example:
I began to feel as if my legs would not carry me anymore … I bumped into the wall, into the door an could not stand still …at one point I suddenly felt a strong hatred towards …. (a member of his team). “
After his team evacuated the building He then goes on to explain that:-
I don’t recall much, but I remember standing in the courtyard …. Then I broke down … I started to cry uncontrollably.
He believed he had become possessed in some way.
Another stated that he had felt suicidal after a visit, whilst there were other examples of people simply breaking down in tears. The similarity of these events to each other when analysed made me think they were valid to include. What caused these reactions, of course, remains open to debate.
In your report, you wrote that Vanessa Mitchell started experiencing paranormal phenomena after buying the house in 2005, in your investigations so far, have you found any reports of previous owners experiencing anything at The Cage?
The investigation is still evolving to date, and you seem quite correctly to be asking the questions which we are still trying to discover answers for . With regards to previous tenants the place did come with a local reputation for being haunted. There is here say evidence that previous owners 2 or 3 decades ago had ad hoc phenomena such as books falling out of their shelves.
When Ms Mitchell moved out she initially put the premises up for rent. Neither set of tenants stayed long and at least one of the tenants reported numerous incidents to Ms Mitchell. In both these cases however it has not been possible yet to talk to the witness first hand – and I am fully aware how much that would strengthen this case. I am also currently making progress in trying to track two people down who have been identified as living there in the late 1970s – which will hopefully give useful clues as to the timeline of strange events.
Since opening up to paranormal investigators and receiving media attention in 2012, The Cage has been investigated a number of times. I’ll be the first person to confess that I’m a historian rather than a paranormal investigator, but in television shows like Most Haunted we see Mediums as a key part of Paranormal Investigations. Is this the truth of the teams who have investigated The Cage and what proportion of investigations was conducted by Mediums or teams using them?
Mediums are used in about (at a wild guess) a little under half of all paranormal groups. The report deliberately excluded their (psychically gained) evidence so as not to get into a pro /anti medium debate. Also because there was no real consistency in the entities that were reported which varied from the witch finder general Mathew Hopkins to a malevolent dwarf.
A wide range of (potential) discarnates were picked up – but at least one medium felt that these entities were not the direct cause of the phenomena in any case, and that it may be caused by other ‘ paranormal’ energies(e.g. lay lines).
From reading your report on The Cage, it seems that the phenomena are broadly categorised into poltergeist activity, anomalous emotional effects and apparitions (please forgive and feel free to correct my layman’s terminology). Could you tell us a little more about the apparitions that have been seen?
To paraphrase your question- is the Cage haunted by a grey lady or a headless monk?
The answer to this is confusing in that there does seem to be certain randomness with regards to the visual phenomena. Vanessa Mitchell herself saw the ghostly figure of a tall dark male on the very first day she moved in and subsequently amongst other sightings a ghost lady carrying a wooden bowl filled with herbs. This is perhaps surprisingly one of the few events that could be directly associated with the witch history of the place.
A friend of Ms Mitchel saw a female figure in an upstairs window at the very same time as three other witnesses heard a loud crash in the same area. I am currently trying to contact a lady who has seen a similar apparition in the window several times. Overall however compared with the poltergeist type phenomena since the premises were vacated apparitions have seemed quite peripheral to the other events – and not of a type that could signify one particular entity is haunting the place for sure .
For the emotional responses people have had from The Cage, has anyone looked at the idea of infrasound (low frequency waves that can cause fear, dread, sorrow and revulsion in human subjects) in connection with The Cage?
I would very much wish to test this theory but know of only one paranormal research group with the equipment to test it thoroughly. It was very much on my agenda at first but logistically has not been possible to arrange. The weakness that all spontaneous case work still has is also the lack of willingness for University based experts to put on their coats and do some work outside their laboratories. This is something I am continually trying to overcome.
Would you mind describing to our readers what The Cage itself as a cottage is like? Is the building we call The Cage in any way spooky? Is it isolated, or in a particularly unnerving location?
Fourteen Colchester Rd is a fairly small two up two down semi-detached dwelling most of which apart from the ‘Cage’ part dates from the eighteenth century . It actually stands next to a very pleasant public house and is in a well-used street. Whilst its name provokes the imagination, from the outside it looks like a pleasant old village dwelling.
I have investigated underground prisons and ruined cottages surrounded only by wilderness and peat bogs , and can say quite frankly that there is nothing about The Cage that would prepare anyone for the strange effects so many have found when they ‘dare to’ walk inside its doors.
Many thanks to Spooky Isles for giving me the chance to explain this ongoing project.
If any who read this have investigated The Cage or know anything about the premises please don’t hesitate to contact me [email protected]